So often our food doesn’t clearly state where it was produced, and when it does, the label can be misleading. It’s about time our food displayed clearer and more intuitive country of origin labelling.
The Food Minister Jim Paice has called for food manufacturers to voluntarily provide more information about where our food comes from.
This is encouraging – but we still think the legislation needs to be changed. That’s why we’re working with our counterparts across Europe to make sure this happens.
Many of us want to know where our food comes from. We found that around eight in ten people think it’s important that country of origin labelling (COOL) is on meat and poultry. And around three quarters felt the same about fruit and vegetables, dairy products and processed meats. And the main reason why? Because we want to buy British.
Origin of food labelling a mess
But at the moment, it’s all a mess. Country of origin labelling is voluntary for most foods unless it’s misleading not to provide it (a pizza made in the UK might look like it’s Italian, for example).
Then there’s also a haphazard list of foods that do require such labelling, including beef and olive oil. And though some retailers provide origin information on some other foods out of choice (the Co-operative goes the furthest by labelling the main ingredients in processed foods) sometimes this labelling may not be as it seems.
Where’s your food actually from?
The place where food is manufactured may be different to where its ingredients originally came from. This opens up a whole can of worms – what does ‘country of origin’ actually mean?
Legally, a food’s ‘origin’ is the place where the food last underwent a ‘substantial change’, but manufacturers don’t always interpret this as we would. It could even mean that an animal was simply slaughtered in the UK, or meat was sliced here – both meats could be called ‘British’.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises that the origin of the main ingredients should be labelled if they are different to where the product was made (produced in the UK from Danish meat, for example). But, once again, this guidance is only voluntary.
We want to trust food labels
Firstly, you should be able to trust that when the words ‘country of origin’ is given on food, this is where it actually comes from. And secondly, this labelling should be on a much wider range of foods. If it’s on beef, why not pork?
Things are looking hopeful. New EU labelling rules look set to make the FSA’s guidance legally binding and the European Parliament has voted in support of extending the foods that label their origin.
This debate now has to take place between the EU’s member states, so the government must use this opportunity to ensure that more honest origin labelling is on our food once and for all.